In real estate, agents work in a high-touch industry filled with handshakes, car trips and home visits. Salem agents didn’t shut down their offices due to COVID-19, but their work definitely changed.
A sale sign in West Salem on Friday, May 22. Sales dipped in the area in April compared to a year ago. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
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Open the door, pull open the kitchen drawers and pull the shower curtain back. Buying a home in Salem is typically a high-touch endeavor.
COVID-19 changed all that.
Oregon didn’t mandate an industry shutdown, but local Realtors say their jobs have definitely changed.
It starts with the first client meeting. Handshakes are banned, and face masks cover smiles or frowns.
“There’s a psychological element as well as a physical element,” said Paula Fordham, a broker with RE/MAX Integrity in Salem. “You don’t get the social cues. You don’t get facial expressions. Even today, I went on a listing appointment, and I can’t reach out and shake hands. And I’m not always sure of what clients look like, because I meet them when they have masks on.”
If potential clients choose to visit a house, unusual practices are in place.
“I always wear a mask, I wear gloves, and I give my clients the heads up that they can’t touch anything,” Fordham said. “If they want me to open a cupboard or door for them, they must tell me what they want, and I’ll be the one to physically touch it with my gloved hand. And at the end of the showing, I throw those gloves away.”
Fordham says she gives unprecedented direction to those she takes on tours.
“I have to tell my clients, ‘Remember what it was like when you were in kindergarten, and you were on a field trip, and you had to hold your hands behind your back? It’s like that. You can look, but you can’t touch,'” she said.
The current era also changes how sellers ready their homes.
Hector Garcia, principal broker with John L. Scott Real Estate, advised his clients to prepare their homes for pandemic showings. They should open all doors, including closet doors, and open all cabinets and cupboards. Every light should stay on too.
“It really minimizes the amount that buyers and agents need to touch things in the home,” he said. “It may give the impression that the house is a little messy, but everyone understands why the doors and cabinets are open.”
Out-of-town buyers continue to visit Salem, Fordham and Garcia said. But their visits are unusual.
“We’ve still had to maintain social distancing, so we must stay six feet apart. Driving clients around in your car is not acceptable right now,” Fordham said.
When she showed Salem homes to a family from California, she talked about the neighborhood either before or after the visit. She told them about the nearby Trader Joe’s, or she pointed to a map to…